Sensing our way through the pandemic

We learn about our five senses pretty early in school, right? Probably kindergarten?

In a time of great stress, like the current coronavirus pandemic, it feels like each of those senses--touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing--are getting quite a run for their money. Even for those of us who have been at home most of the time since mid March and we’ve experienced less of the physical world, it feels like all of our senses are working hard to make sense of information we’re receiving about this situation. Oh, and then we have to work to determine the credibility of those details.

Taste.

Even something as fun as taste (comfort food, FTW) has been a little worrisome given “losing your sense of taste” may be among the first indications that you have the COVID-19 virus. But while we can taste things, it seems like many of us are craving the feel-good, oh-so-processed foods of our youth to feel a little better. Foods like Cheetos, ramen noodles and cheese balls are back on my countertop and in my pantry. And the carbs, you guys! With bread baking and sourdough starting among the steps of the grieving process during quarantine, it seems like any previously set rules around carbohydrates have fallen away.

I have to say, while I miss just being able to go out to eat when we want to, I do like the feeling of control that cooking has given me during this period. I don’t know the answer to a lot of my kid’s questions about the pandemic, including “When will this be over?” but I do know the answer, on most (many?) days, to the question, “What’s for dinner?”

Smell.

Mmmm, smell. It is springtime, after all … right? But this sense also falls into the same troublesome category as taste. Losing it could indicate you have the virus. (Insert the yikes emoji.) But, while we do have our sense of smell, late spring or early summer is certainly a good time to have it. Just catching a whiff of freshly cut grass outside of the slamming screen door (yay for fresh air in the house!), can be an almost transformational experience.

The scents of all these meals we’re cooking at home? The dewy freshness of newly cleaned dishes in the dishwasher? They wouldn’t be hanging in the air on a random Tuesday outside of a “Safer at Home” order. Whether it’s meat charring on the grill or garlic just starting to liquify in heated olive oil or the airy scent of just-baked bread, this quarantine definitely has a smell.

Hearing.

The official sound of this pandemic? It has to be the awkward silence during video conferences. With three people in our home doing different sets of tasks online at once, we’ve got a variety of sounds happening at all times.

The weirdest time for us has to be mid-morning, right before lunch. It seems like that’s a popular time for conference calls and it is usually a time when the three of us will be on different devices talking to three different groups of people. And then there is the real-life background music of working in the same place you live: the drone of the always-running dishwasher, the rhythmic hum of the washer and dryer. While our physical world has condensed to a household, it feels like a pretty consistent flow of conversations and, at times, chaos.

Sight.

While our vantage point may be from the same place where we also sleep and eat every day, we are seeing people in ways we don’t normally see them.

Listening to our 12-year-old interact with family during virtual storytime or with his teachers during their virtual office hours or with friends as he navigates through a Fortnite battle (or is it Overwatch?), it can feel like I snuck into a theater to see a movie I’m not allowed to see. It’s not just our kids we’re seeing in a different light; we’re seeing our colleagues in their homes, with their partners and kids. It’s like we are seeing each other’s humanity, maybe for the first time.

Touch.

To me, this one is more of a feeling, like in my gut, than things I’m touching with my fingers (insert yikes emoji again). Depending on the news of the day or the events of the week, I can feel the roller coaster of despair, anger, hope roll through my body until the ride stops with an anxiety-clenched fist around my stomach.

And just the past week? Whooo boy. Nothing like watching people fill into bars in Wisconsin, some as close as 10 miles from my home in the Green Bay area, in the hours (hour?) after the state Supreme Court said the administration of Gov. Tony Evers overstepped its authority by extending the Safer at Home order, which had been set to expire on May 26. The next day, just across the pond in Michigan, there’s a guy holding a fishing pole with an American flag AND a noosed Barbie doll standing in front of the Michigan Capitol building in Lansing. Those images, and their related consequences, are enough to sink even the most steely stomach.

Amy Bailey was a member of the Michigan Capitol Press Corps from 2000-2006. She lives and works in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with her husband, son and an easily excitable Australian Shepherd named Max. Amy's guest column, Something to Say, publishes periodically. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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